In the spring of 1967 I was the beneficiary of “affirmative action.” Yes, I am a blue-eyed white guy named “Johnson” but I was also a working class, public school student from Bay Shore High School --- a distinct minority as far as Yale University had been concerned. Until 1966, that is. Yale’s President, Kingman Brewster, had appointed a young admissions director, Inslee Clark, and informed him: “I do not intend to preside over a finishing school on Long Island Sound.” (Geoffrey Kabaservice, The Guardians, 2004) Until 1966 Yale had admitted more private/prep school than public school boys (it was still an all-male institution) with a particular eye toward “legacies,” the sons of alumni. Brewster and Clark had a different vision in mind for Yale, starting with the Class of 1970. Wielding a “need-blind” admissions policy (money would not be a factor in considering an applicant), Brewster and Clark set in motion an admissions plan that would, in a few short years, begin admitting more public than private schools students, more African-Americans, more Jews (there had been an unspoken "quota") and, finally, women (my Class, 1971, was the first to graduate undergraduate women from Yale). Brewster also had a soft spot for musicians and artists and, following the merit-based admissions policy Clark implemented, the University became a wonderfully diverse and exciting place --- far moreso than its past. This is not to say it was “easy” or perfect (by any means) for those early classes of African Americans and women but there was a commitment to making Yale better by becoming more inclusive.
This is why the latest move by the Trump Justice Department is so insidious and regressive. In focusing on rolling back Affirmative Action programs the Trump/Sessions cabal has clearly thrown down their gauntlet to reinstate the “proper place” of white males in the American hierarchy (which the infidel Obama so rudely tossed up in their faces). Today’s NY Times introduced an interesting strategy that seems to be afoot in making their devious plan more “palatable.” Their first target, it seems, will be Harvard --- based on its Affirmative Action discrimination of Asian-Americans. Just as the Trump presidential campaign “divided-and-conquered” white voters (winning over white women & non-college, working class supporters), it seems the Justice Department is using a similar tactic to keep our eye off the ball! According to the Times:
Students like Mr. Jia (the student bringing the suit) are now the subject of a lawsuit accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions by imposing a penalty for their high achievement and giving preferences to other racial minorities.
The Harvard case asserts that the university’s admissions process amounts to an illegal quota system, in which roughly the same percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, whites and Asian-Americans have been admitted year after year, despite fluctuations in application rates and qualifications.
The key phrase here is “giving preferences to other racial minorities.” The foot the Justice Department is wedging into the door is that 1) we should not “favor” one minority group over others and 2) if it’s happening to Asian-Americans, it must also be happening to white applicants as well (despite the Fisher v. U-Texas case last spring). And I can guarantee you, that’s where we will see this suit heading in short order with Jefferson Beauregard Sessions leading the charge, a modern day Pickett defying the basic premises underlying our democracy and Union.
While we’re on the subject of Harvard and its admissions policies, you may have missed an article in yesterday’s Vox about the Presidential “advisor” (oh, and son-in-law) Jared Kushner. Mr. Kushner, of course, is a Harvard graduate and Vox did a little digging into his admission to that institution. Here’s what they found:
What Golden (Daniel Golden The Price of Admission 2007) found, essentially, was that Jared’s father handed Harvard (a school he did not attend) a big pile of money just as Jared was starting to apply to colleges. Around the same time, Jared’s dad got his US senator (Frank Lautenberg) to contact another US senator (Ted Kennedy – Harvard alum) to arrange a chat with Harvard’s dean of admissions.
In 1998, according to sources familiar with the gift, the New York University alumnus [Charles Kushner] pledged $2.5 million to Harvard, to be paid in annual installments of $250,000. ... At the time of the pledge, Kushner’s older son, Jared, was starting the college admissions process at the Frisch School, a Jewish high school in Paramus, New Jersey. A senior in 1998-99, Jared was not in the school’s highest academic track in all courses, and his test scores were below Ivy League standards. Frisch officials were surprised when he applied to Harvard — and dismayed when he was admitted.
“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former school official told me. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not” ...
... Margot Krebs, who was director of Frisch’s college preparatory program at the time, said, “Jared was certainly not anywhere near the top of his class. He had some very strong personal qualities. He’s a very charming young man with a great deal of poise, the sort of kid you would look at him and say, ‘This is a future politician.’ It was an unusual choice for Harvard to make.” (Vox Andrew Prokop, August 2, 2017)
Now that’s the kind of "Affirmative Action" that existed from 1636 (when Harvard was founded) through the late 1960’s. You may recall a recent U.S. President (Yale, 1968) bragging that “even a ‘C’ student can get elected President” because he had been an alumni/legacy admission (who also went to Harvard’s MBA program). There is no doubt that “old boy” networks still exist and “legacy” admissions still happen (just as certain running backs miraculously are admitted to various University’s with “high standards” --- Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, etc.) but we have seen significant and important progress in college admissions because of Affirmative Action and the current administration’s assault on those programs must be met with virulent opposition before it gains any momentum in the courts or elsewhere. Educational opportunity is a key to a healthy democracy, despite what the bigots in “the new swamp” want us to believe.